Visiting Jekyll Island, Georgia [Roadtrip from Atlanta!] 

Beautiful trees surrounding a walking pathway in Jekyll Island

I can not tell you how excited I am to write this blog post. Our recent trip to Jekyll Island is the first trip since the pandemic started that truly feels like we explored a new area. I had forgotten how much I love that feeling! 

We had done a cabin and a beach house, but those trips were more about the area around our rental and less about exploring. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good secluded trip, especially when in a global pandemic. Still, it was nice to wander around the little wild piece of paradise that is Jekyll Island. The high sixties and low seventies temperatures in early May allowed this to be the perfect, uncrowded getaway… and it was only about a 5+ hour drive from Atlanta!

We really enjoyed our getaway. I am sharing the details of our mini adventure in case you are looking for inspiration for upcoming trips!

Man walks alone in the beach during a beautiful day without any clouds in the blue sky

Let’s start with where to stay in Jekyll Island.

We chose to stay at a VRBO property with walking access to the beach. Our place was modest, but it had everything we needed. Honestly, there’s so much to do outdoors that you can go this simple route and save money on accommodations. Everything is easy to access with a bike, so if you are bringing your bike or planning to rent bikes, you can consider a rental a little bit further from the beach. More on bikes further down!  

There are also some great hotel and resort options on the island, including options with fun pool areas if you plan to travel with kids (or you just love a good pool slide). Out of the list, The Jekyll Island Club Resort is the most iconic spot. This resort was formerly the exclusive Jekyll Island Club that hosted prominent families from the north back in the day and is now a luxury historic resort hotel. I would save staying at this spot for a special occasion or when you are ready to partake in all of the resort activities to truly make it worth it. What’s cool is that you can still visit the resort, even if you are not a guest. 

Where you stay can really dictate your vibe, so think about it: what do you want to get out of your trip to Jekyll Island? I don’t think there is a wrong answer!

Now, let’s talk about food.

Dinner plate with salmon on top of a white sauce pasta

Regardless of where you end up staying, I totally recommend you do drinks or dinner at The Wharf. At the moment of our visit, they were only taking reservations for guests of the Jekyll Island Club Resort (where the restaurant is located). Still, we got there early and just waited for a table outside. Waiting 1+ hour for a table out on the deck, a drink in hand, and a beautiful view ahead is not too shabby! The sunset views made it absolutely worth it and extra special, as it was our anniversary dinner (woo). 

Colorful sunset over Jekyll Island captured from The Wharf restaurant
sunset view from The Wharf

Not only was I feeling grateful to be able to celebrate another year of marriage, I was also extremely aware that we were outside in a beautiful setting, enjoying a delicious dinner and live music. I couldn’t even remember the last time we were in a similar scenario, and the blessing of the moment was not lost on me. 

Lunch plate ordered at Zachry's Riverhouse restaurant including: grilled shrimp, buttered potatoes and lima beans with bacon
lunch at Zachry’s Riverhouse… excellent!

I was expecting good seafood on this trip since you’re by the coast, but I hadn’t given much thought to what specific type of seafood was awaiting. Turns out, Georgia Wild Shrimp are pretty unique and quite delicious. We went to Zachry’s Riverhouse for lunch, and I FEASTED. They also have a nice outdoor seating area. Even though we were there for lunch, I can assume they have an excellent view of sunsets based on their location.

Two cups of margarita on the rocks from Tortuga Jacks, overlooking an ocean view

Another cool spot was Tortuga Jacks. In my opinion, their food was average, but the location and views make the spot worth it (Brian wants to make it clear that he really enjoyed the food). They are conveniently located along the bike path (as most places are), so we had some fun biking in and out. The spot reminded me of being in Rincón, Puerto Rico, with those low-key beach vibes (I was just missing the Kaplash empanadas, IYKYK). They also have a great bottomless mimosas deal on Sundays (only $8!).

Bikes are a must!

Empty road surrounded by tall, green trees and only one biker on the road, biking ahead

If you come to Jekyll Island and don’t bike, you will miss a big part of what makes this place so unique. The island is wrapped in bike trails, so you can basically get anywhere on a bike. I had missed biking SO much, especially biking as a casual mode of transportation and not a workout you are diligently tracking on your Apple watch.

We decided not to bring our own bikes because we did not feel too confident about our bike rack withstanding a 5 hours+ road trip and instead rented bikes for the weekend. This is a solid option, but I was not a big fan of the bikes we got (which seem to be the type that is widely available for rent across the island). Sure, they can get you from point A to point B, but I wanted to be more comfortable looping around the island, about a 25-mile ride. 

Jekyll Island’s rich history (pun intended)

To be honest, I had never heard of Jekyll Island until we saw Jekyll Island Brewing in Alpharetta (I still need to figure out the connection there). We were researching beaches to drive to from Atlanta, and Jekyll Island came up as one of the options. We really didn’t have much other knowledge to go off from.

One of the first things I heard about the island, as I set out to learn more about it before our arrival, was that it used to be the playground of the wealthy socialites from the north. When you arrive on the island, you also see a big sign that says “Jekyll Island, Established in 1947.” 

[ Side note: I found it a little amusing that our last trip before the pandemic was to The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, as Jekyll Island used to host some of the same family members. We also went to Newport, Rhode Island a while back, so it was interesting to patch up some of what we had learned in our previous trips with what we uncovered at Jekyll Island. Look at us, so bougie. ]

My ignorant self assumed that the Vanderbilts, Rockerfellers, J.P. Morgans, and those of the like, had found this empty island and saw in it an opportunity to set one of their retreat locations in the south. 

As we have come to learn, nothing is as simple as it initially sounds. During our trip, we learned that Jekyll Island was so much more before it did end up becoming a playground for the rich.

I totally recommend visiting the Mosaic Jekyll Island Museum. There, we learned of the critical pieces of history that are not usually shared when people talk about Jekyll Island. In the museum, you can learn about the first known habitants of the island way back before any European colonizers arrived at the shore or the illegal landing of the ship The Wanderer with 465 slaves from Africa, fifty years after the importation of slaves to the United States had been prohibited. We didn’t have time to visit the Wanderer Memory Trail, but it’s definitely on my list when we return. All this history got me thinking about the importance of getting to know more about your vacation spot and taking the time to go deeper than the basics that are sold to you when it comes to a destination. 

Another great learning experience was visiting Georgia Sea Turtle Center: Georgia’s only sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility. Their preservation efforts are so important, and their center does offer a lot of education opportunities. This is also an excellent stop for a visit with kids. It helps instill the importance of conservation and taking care of the planet we live on. Another fun activity for kids (or Brian) is the Jekyll Island Miniature Golf. We also enjoyed horseback riding in Driftwood Beach.

two women riding two different horses on the beach, the ocean to the left and the sand to the right.

With only four days on the island, we know we barely scratched the surface. Jekyll may seem like a small island, but there is surprisingly a lot to do. We also want to explore the other islands part of the Golden Isles and Cumberland Island (which I always call Cucumber Island by mistake)… all for a future visit!

Have you been to Jekyll Island or any of the islands off the coast of Georgia? Any recommendations for future visits? Let me know in the comments!

orange, pink and blue sunset at Jekyll Island

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